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ʿIlm al-Kalām (Arabic: علم الكلام, literally "science of discourse"), often foreshortened to kalam, is an Islamic undertaking born out of the need to establish and defend the tenets of Islamic faith against doubters and detractors. A scholar of kalam is referred to as a mutakallim (plural mutakallimūn) as distinguished from philosophers, jurists, and scientists. There are many possible interpretations as to why this discipline was originally called "kalam"; one is that the widest controversy in this discipline has been about whether the Word of God, as revealed in the Qur'an, can be considered part of God's essence and therefore not created, or whether it was made into words in the normal sense of speech, and is therefore created.
The Arabic term kalam means "word" and its use for the name of the Islamic theology has the root in the Quran which is the Word of God (kalām Allāh). The founder of Kalam has been said to be Ali who used the rational arguments for the defense of Islamic faith.
As an Islamic discipline
Even though seeking knowledge in Islam is considered a religious obligation, the studying of 'Ilm al-Kalam is considered by Muslim scholars to fall under the category of necessity and is only permitted to qualified scholars, but not for the masses or common people.
The early Muslim scholar Imam al-Shafi‘i held that there should be a certain number of men trained in kalam to defend and purify the faith, but that it would be a great evil if their arguments should become known to the mass of the people.
Similarly, the Islamic scholar Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, held the view that the science of 'Ilm al-Kalam is not a personal duty on Muslims but a collective duty. Like al-Shafi'i, he discouraged the masses from studying it.
The contemporary Islamic scholar Nuh Ha Mim Keller holds the view that the criticism of kalam from scholars was specific to the Mu'tazila, going on to claim that other historical Muslim scholars such as Al-Ghazali and An-Nawawi saw both good and bad in kalam and cautioned from the speculative excess of unorthodox groups such as the Mu'tazilah and Jahmites. As Nuh Ha Mim Keller states in his article "Kalam and Islam":
"What has been forgotten today however by critics who would use the words of earlier Imams to condemn all kalam, is that these criticisms were directed against its having become 'speculative theology' at the hands of latter-day authors. Whoever believes they were directed against the `aqida or "personal theology" of basic tenets of faith, or the 'discursive theology' of rational kalam arguments against heresy is someone who either does not understand the critics or else is quoting them disingenuously."
Major kalam schools
- Jahm bin Safwan
- Jewish Kalam
- Kalam cosmological argument
- Logic in Islamic philosophy
- Logos (Christianity)
- Qadr (doctrine)
- Winter, Tim J. "Introduction." Introduction. The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. 4-5. Print.
- Madeleine Pelner Cosman, Linda Gale Jones, Handbook to Life in the Medieval World, p 391. ISBN 1438109075
- Clinton Bennett, The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies, p 119. ISBN 1441127887.
- Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2007). Islam religion, history, and civilization. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins e-books. pp. 153–154. ISBN 978-0-06-155642-5.
- Bennett, Clinton (2012). The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 119. ISBN 1441127887.
- Black Macdonald, Duncan (2008). Development of Muslim Theology, Jurisprudence, and Constitutional Theory, Chapter=III. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. p. 187. ISBN 158477858X.
- Jeffry R. Halverson, Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam, 2010: p 37. ISBN 0230106587
- Wolfson, Harry Austryn, The Philosophy of the Kalam, Harvard University Press, 1976, 779 pages, ISBN 978-0-674-66580-4, Google Books, text at archive.org
- Living Islam
- The Kalam
- Kalam Cosmological Argument